by Kraig Becker
A team of British spelunkers and photographers recently returned from and expedition to China where they spent more than a month exploring a massive cave system in the Chongquing province. While there, they managed to capture the first ever images of the impressive Er Wang Dong cave system, which until now had been largely unexplored by humans. What they found was a veritable lost world that included vast caverns, twisting tunnels and a space so large that it contained its own ecosystem, including clouds and weather.
Previously the Er Wang Dong caves had only been explored on a superficial level by nitrate minors who had entered some of the caves that were closest to the surface. Preliminary surveys indicated that there was a much more extensive system of caverns hidden below however, but no one knew just how big the system truly was. In September, the 15-member team decided to plumb the depths of the caves in hopes of getting a better idea of its size. They were continually surprised at what they discovered as the moved deeper beneath the surface.
The team managed to measure the sections of the cavern that they mapped out, estimating the length of the tunnels explored so far to be in excess of 26 miles. They also descended to a depth of nearly 1500 feet. With still more of the cave yet to be investigated, those already impressive numbers are likely to grow substantially with future expeditions.
Reaching those depths was not always an easy. While many of the chambers could easily be walked into, plenty of others required the team to rappel down steep rock faces or swim across large pools of water. The deeper they went, the more impressive the caves became, with narrow tunnels routinely giving way to sprawling chambers carved out of limestone rock.
Perhaps the most impressive discovery was an open chamber dubbed “Cloud Ladder Hall.” The massive room is 12.5 acres in size and rises 820 feet above the cave floor to the open sky above. As a result, an independent ecosystem has developed along the interior of the cavern, with plants and animals living within. The chamber even has its own weather patterns with wispy clouds hanging in the air over head.
To get a better sense of what the Er Wang Dong caves look like, check out the photos that were posted to the Daily Mail’s website. They depict a subterranean world that is impressive in its scope and intriguing in the mysteries that it holds. It is good to know that true exploration still exists, even in the 21st century.